Some progress is being made in encouraging under-represented groups to continue into higher education, but particular sections of society remain significantly under-represented and too little is known about the link between measures taken by institutions and any improvements in access. The attainment of qualifications at secondary school is the principal reason for the difference in participation rates but social class remains a strong determinant of higher education participation. Women are better represented than men and those from non-white ethnic groups are better represented than white people. The report finds that white people from lower socio-economic groups are the most under-represented group in higher education institutions. There are also significant variations between academic institutions in how good they are at widening participation. In 2006-07, one sixth of institutions made less progress than expected in recruiting students from areas with low participation. Those that became universities post-1992 generally do better than the Russell Group universities (an association of 20 self-selected major research intensive institutions). Incomplete data on student background hinders accurate assessment of which groups are under-represented. There is insufficient information about the full range of activities aimed at widening participation, making it difficult to identify which activities are most effective. Higher education is not always provided in ways that make it accessible to individuals from under-represented groups. Some students and potential students have limited understanding of the different types of financial support available to them. The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills should lead efforts to create a comprehensive and accessible source of information to support potential applicants from under-represented groups.
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